Louisville Conference Report

Tyler Babbie

Last month NPF editorial assistant Tyler Babbie attended The 39th Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 and he wrote a report on his experience, which I am only just now getting around to posting. NPF alumni are always in ample evidence at this three-day event — as presenters and also as subjects of presentations — and this year the NPF list include two of the keynotes: Michael Heller and Rae Armantrout. Tyler unfortunately arrived too late to catch Heller (but you can read all about it on Aldon Lynn Nielsen‘s blog). As for the rest, here is Tyler’s report — with the names of NPF and University of Maine alumni in bold:

This was the first time I have attended the Louisville Conference — I found it friendly and fascinating.  There were plenty of panels on topics that were immediately relevant to the NPF, especially on modern poetry, but there were also panels with more unusual themes (zombie apocalypse!).  You can see the whole program here.

There are over 135 panels crammed into nine time slots and so I only saw a fraction of what was going on. Here are some observations on a few of things I saw:

On Friday the 25th, I attended a panel titled “Re-envisioning H. D.’s Late Writings,” which was sponsored by the H. D. International Society.  I was also going to present on H. D., so I found this one particularly interesting.  Marsha Bryant presented on H. D.’s Helen in Egypt in the context of contemporary epic film — she found that there are many similarities in the ways that Hollywood and H. D. reimagine Homeric epic.  Lheisa Dustin presented on the psychological underpinnings of H. D.’s work, teasing apart some of the difficult passages in Helen in Egypt and The Sword Went Out to Sea. Finally, Jane Augustine read a paper by Emily McCann, who could not attend the conference.  It was on “Queering H.D.’s Trilogy.”  Donna Krollick Hollenberg — like Augustine a longtime contributor to NPF publications and conferences — offered many insights in a lively discussion after the presentations.

My own presentation came later.  Adra Raine of UNC Chapel Hill chaired our panel, “American Modernism and the Life of Things,” a topic suggested by Paideuma contributor and University of Maine professor Tony Brinkley. We were joined by Rebecca Griffin, who is attending UMass Amherst.  The four of us are friends from our time at Maine, though Adra and Rebecca have moved on.  My paper was on H. D. and Mikhail Bakhtin.  Rebecca worked on George Oppen.  Adra presented a paper on the late poetry of Wallace Stevens.  Tony ended our panel with thoughts on William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Rae Armantrout reads at the Louisville Conference

After the presentations, we attended a great reading by Rae Armantrout, who was a keynote at our own conference on The Poetry of the 1970s and who has read twice in the New Writing Series.  Here’s a photo, but I am afraid it is not very good — my camera seems to be having trouble focusing.  This wasn’t a problem for the audience, as Armantrout kept us rapt, and managed to draw laughs from all corners of the auditorium.

On Saturday I attended a panel on “Regions of Practice: American Poetics of Relational Space,” which was packed with NPF alumni.  It was very pleasant to meet Ondrea Ackerman, who presented on geopoetics in Gertrude Stein and Robert Grenier.  Her article “The Periplum of the Pisan Cantos” will appear this fall in Paideuma 38.  George Hart presented on Larry Eigner.  His work has appeared in Sagetrieb and he has attended our conferneces.  The panel was chaired by Barrett Watten, who has been a keynote at our conferences and contributed to NPF publications as both poet and scholar.

Another panel I attended was on music, text, and poetry.  Robert Zamsky presented on Robert Creeley‘s relationship to music, Mark Scroggins on the music of the Mekons, and William R. Howe on the unusual poetry and music of Bob Cobbing.  Howe received his M.A. at Maine, working with Burt Hatlen and Carroll Terrell. Scroggins, a longtime friend of the NPF, has contributed to Sagetrieb numerous times and been to several of our conferences.

The last presentation I attended was also on modern poetry.  Rachelle Katz Lerner, a biographer of Kenneth Rexroth, wrote on the contemplative nature of his poetics.  She has also presented on Rexroth at the NPF conferences.  Donna Hollenberg presented on Denise Levertov’s poem “During the Eichmann Trial.”  She has contributed to Paideuma, Sagetrieb, and many of the NPF’s conferences.  George Hart’s presentation on Guy Davenport and Ezra Pound came last.

The conference ended with a party at the house of another longtime friend of the NPF, Alan Golding. This party included a poetry reading that will be on PennSound. At the party I was particularly fortunate to spend time talking to Lerner, who regaled me with off-the-record stories from the life of Kenneth Rexroth.

Editors’ Preface for Paideuma 36

The essays in this volume of Paideuma have been arranged chronologically by poet, beginning with two essays on Ezra Pound and continuing through H. D., Mary Barnard, and Charles Reznikoff, concluding with several figures associated with the post-war generations that first came to prominence in The New American Poetry. The chronological presentation is not entirely adequate to the material surveyed: the last essay, by Tony Brinkley and Joseph Arsenault, looks at recent poems by Rosmarie Waldrop, Barbara Guest, and Alice Notley, but with a conceptual framework established through close readings of Hegel, Wordsworth, and Wallace Stevens. Since the first essay in the issue, by Robert Stark, digs deep into the archive of Scots dialect poetry to illuminate the antiquarian diction of Pound’s earliest poems, the eight essays form a circle of sorts, beginning and ending with the eighteenth century. But the twentieth century is emphatically on display here: as traumatic event for Aimee Pozorski, as material culture for Kaplan Harris, as a confluence of social forces for Andrea Brady. History also informs Patrick Barron’s essay on Edward Dorn’s western landscapes, while Sarah Barnsley discovers a poetics of history in the Imagist landscapes of Mary Barnard and H. D. In Barnsley’s account, poetry becomes “a series of compressed, ground-up moments carrying marks of other moments much as sand carries traces of all contact with rocks and waves.” For Sean Pryor, poetry is instead a series of moments of instruction—vexed and vexing ones, since he is looking at Pound’s late cantos.

The essays are as various and complementary in method as in subject. Several of this volume’s authors draw on archival material, none more so than Andrea Brady, who surveys and reads the John Wieners papers at nine institutions. Robert Stark and Kaplan Harris instead turn to print culture, the former historicizing Pound’s “jargoning,” the latter “the ubiquitous presence of pills” in the work of Ted Berrigan. Sarah Barnsley’s rich account of Mary Barnard’s poetics makes judicious use of manuscript material, while Aimee Pozorski’s powerful reading of Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust looks at the author’s source materials and notes in light of trauma theory. Critical theory also informs Patrick Barron’s reading of Edward Dorn, which demonstrates the value of Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space for ecopoetics. Tony Brinkley and Joseph Arsenault read Hegel, and also, to a lesser extent, Heidegger and Deleuze, but the theory most important for their essay is Wordsworthian. That poetic practice implies a theory is a key tenet for Barnsley too, and also for Sean Pryor, who examines the pedagogy of Pound’s “Ezuversity” and discovers a fissure, another reason why the Cantos “cannot make it cohere”: “the pedagogic structure of guidance and instruction is in conflict with the occult structure of illumination and revelation”; “the poem brings the great ball of crystal, only to discover that this avails nothing, for the crystal cannot ever be lifted, entered, or known.”

We are also happy to be publishing seven reviews encompassing primary texts by Ezra Pound and Ernst Fenollosa, and new scholarship on Pound, George Oppen, Black Mountain poetics, and the modernist occult.

With this double issue Paideuma shifts to a biannual format (the journal has been a de facto biannual since volume 14), and for the foreseeable future the year’s two issues will be printed together as a single annual. Our primary aim is to streamline the publication process, in order to get the journal back on a regular publication schedule. We believe that this format is best suited to the goal. Note that the date range assigned to this volume brings the current issue in line with the current calendar year. Volume 37 will cover the year 2010 and feature an eighty-fifth birthday tribute to Mary de Rachewiltz edited by Richard Sieburth. We also look forward to publishing in this forthcoming volume essays by Joshua Clover, Evelyn Haller, Sean Pryor, and Jeffrey Westover.

Preview of Paideuma 36: Tony Brinkley and Joesph Arsenault

Tony Brinkley

Tony Brinkley and Joseph Arsenault’s “‘This Is Where the Serpent Lives’: Wordsworthian Poetics and Contemporary American Poetry,” presents a complex application of Hegelian dialectic and Wordsworthian poetics onto the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Rosmarie Waldrop, Barbara Guest, and Alice Notley. Operating on destabilized terrain, Brinkley and Arsenault propose that deitic gestures found in Wordsworth are explored to interesting limits of potentiality, first in Stevens, and later in Waldrop, Guest, and Notley. A central question of their essay is: “Can we see a Wordsworthian poetics of this sort in contemporary American poetry?” Their answer:

The this is a universal, indifferent to its content, indifferently night or day, house or tree, [as] Hegel writes, but the deixis of the poems we are considering is hardly indifferent in its reference. The ‘body-bags’ in Waldrop’s poem turn recent history into deitic insistence – not insistence on the specific referent, but grammatical insistence, as a shifter. …Whatever the deictic gesture refers to is added to the referring, presencing gesture…so that when Waldrop writes “what can I do but tie ribbons to the idea of body and its wholeness,” we think of war mementos (a yellow ribbon among other possibilities, tied around a car antenna for example).

Joe Arsenault

Tony Brinkley and Joe Arsenault have worked together for years, and the conversation that led to this article began as a thought experiment on Paul de Man, who wrote that literary criticism became literary theory when literary critics embraced linguistics. The linguistics de Man had in mind was Saussure’s and its engagement with arbitrary signs. As a point of departure, Brinkley and Arsenault wondered what might happen if they adopted de Man’s insight but instead substituted indexical for arbitrary signs. On the one hand, this seemed to them to be imperative as they were working with historical realities (at the time, the Shoah). On the other hand, an emphasis on arbitrary signification seemed to lead to hopeless misinterpretations of many of the poems they cared for most (de Man’s impossible reading of Shelley’s “Triumph of Life” for example). From this, an interest in the deictic gestures of Wordsworthian poetry developed, of how the poetry says “of what we see in the dark / That it is this or that it is that.” And so the essay followed…

Tony Brinkley teaches English at the University of Maine where Joseph Arsenault works as a program manager in Surface Engineering. Their other co-authored articles included “Toward an Indexical Criticism” (Postmodern Culture 5.3) and “Traumatized Words” (Sagetrieb 16.3).